A big number of posts, articles, studies and analysis attacking or undermining Social Media's foundations have surfaced lately. And that is a good thing. It is an awesome thing. I’m tempted to say it is the best damn thing that could happen at this particular moment in time.
Let me remind the casual and distracted reader that the individual writing this post makes his living out of Social Media.
I’ve been known to criticize Social Media and its experts in the past. To be fair I have also raised the flag of “we’re too cool to be true” from time to time. Mea Culpa.
Being somewhat violent and critic of one’s own line of work should be implemented as an exercise for all employees, but particularly for those of us who work in Marketing since, given our above-average exposure, we tend to believe we’re more important and enlightened than those working on less “gracious” activities.
Social Media Marketing is far from perfect or being perfected. It is a very novel field of work. There are tons of things to be discovered and explored and there are a lot of mistakes and learning to be made. Probably that is the reason why it is so exiting to work with in the first place and what causes what Joel Mark Whitt calls “Social Media Incest”: Social Media analysts and specialists tend to write and talk about just social media (I’m personally more fond to the term “in-breeding” for some undetermined reason).
Although I do speak about more stuff than just Social Media, I am guilty as charged in that matter as well, since this blog revolves almost exclusively around Social Media / Web Marketing / Web Analytics.
So, we’re in love with ourselves, like the sound of our own voices and are enchanted by the stuff we do for a living. That isn’t necessarily bad, right? It is when we fail to be critic about what we do and when we stop caring about what the outside world says about us and the things we do.
That is the reason why I think the recent attacks and criticism are positive: they get us off our pedestal. Royal pain in the ass, but a necessary and much needed one.
It is time to think again, guys.
We can’t base our work and expectations on just Cluetrain and The Long Tail. Both are awesome, interesting and radical; but things are changing: audiences, markets and companies are evolving and we need to revamp our “theoretic” baggage pronto.
Whether the current economic state is the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it or just a rather big bump on the road is irrelevant. Companies can’t or will no longer fund programs that can’t prove its worth. And by worth I mean money. We need to put “brand” and “reputation” in a slight pause for the time being. Let me rephrase that before I start to take flak.
Companies need to make profits while they build brand and reputation.
In other words, CFO’s and CEO’s won’t wait until Social Media programs are fully built, running and start to indirectly make profits. Might be tough, but such is reality.
The risk under such circumstances becomes one of trying to make profits at any cost.
That is why I don’t like the pay-per-post model. I don’t care how much sense it might make for some. I don’t even care if authors put “sponsored post” in double underline, bold and blinking text, pay-per-post it is (under my black-and-white perspective) just plainly inappropriate. Yet, the whole izea ordeal got me thinking that this type of program makes paid writing “official” and I’m certain that there is a lot of pay-per-post going on under the table.
But I digress. (I do that).
One of the latest attack has to do with the long tail theory, or rather a contradiction of it recently published by the times. Since the data set and sources are still undisclosed it is yet unclear if the authors have a real theory-breaker or just a minor setback of limited reach.
Even if the study has sturdy data to back it up it does not necessarily mean the theory is wrong, just that the model might not apply to everything at all times. It could also mean that just stating that something like the long tail is possible does not make it happen overnight.
The particular universe analyzed by the study published by the Times is the music industry. And although some of the fundamentals of the long tail apply to it better than they apply to other merchant models there are some dark spots in it which might of been overlooked when Chris Anderson draw his conclusions.
The music industry has over 70 years of doing business the same way: Scout or find an artist; make a record; promote, promote, promote; hope for a hit; sell millions of albums. This has two very obvious consequences: a. the audiences have been trained for over 4 generations to be spoon-fed music and b. the record industry knows no better model. This might very well be the two reasons why the long tail might not (yet) be successful for selling music.
But there are other scenarios where the long tail has proved to be right to its full implications.
Content publishing and distribution comes to mind as an obvious example. The proliferation of blogs that focus on a single topic and from a single perspective have had moderate success all around the globe. This has forced traditional publishers (Newspapers & Magazines) to change their perspective towards content generation and open blogs on their own to stay somewhat competitive.
There is another thing we tend to forget given how used we have become to changes. The Long Tail as a book and as a formal theory has only two years of age. I’ll risk it and say that most companies have not even give it a thought. Also, most consumers are unaware of the new and endless options available nowadays. How can I purchase a track from an obscure band at the other end of the world if I don’t even know they exist?
That leads me back to the need to develop new theories that adapt to shifting times. Long Tail, for instance could take advantage of a “nouvelle promotion” theory, or: “how to market for the long tail”. The risk resides in assuming that just because the options are available, they will be magically found by users.
When TV advertising was in its diapers, agencies struggled for well over a decade before they hit the right formulas and perfected their methods. and they have kept evolving as their target audiences evolved with them.
The real point now becomes: Now that novelty has worn off and that social media marketing needs to become mature: how will things evolve?
The criticism and attacks are just signs of the fact that people are no longer blinded by the glitter and brightness of “Social Media”; but are starting to demand real and tangible results. It is up to us, the people that make a living out of it (analysts, marketers, corporate bloggers, everyone) to step up to the challenge and prove its worth.
It has been over a month since we soft launched "Voices of the Olympic Games" and I posted about it. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then and Today Rohit opened all gates and let the flood begin.
I was quite pleased to see the overal warm reception this had. Posts and comments with some praise and some good suggestions are starting to surface.
Also through posts I've learned Prime Minister Gordon Brown has a twitter feed. How is this related to Olympics? I'll let a quote from the post speak for me:
This approach makes perfect sense for both groups and is clearly well-intended. My assumption is that, along with automotive, two of the most active groups online are politics and sports.
Engage in PR had this to say:
I really like what Lenovo is doing and it looks from what I read like the athletes are really responding. The great thing is that the Lenovo site is aggregating different blogs, video, pics, etc and just giving you a place to find them all
There was also a post by Adrants which I think needs some clarification. Neither Ogilvy or Lenovo "Blog the summer Olympics". Athletes do. we simply aggregate, mashup and sometimes (just sometimes) comment or highlight stuff.
That is the whole point of the program as "da boss" made quite clear back when he publicly stated his idea on what Lenovo's web marketing strategy for the Beijing games should be.
What is the Olympic ideal? The idea that propels the Games? In the end, in my opinion, it’s about the athletes. Some 12,000 extraordinarily talented and driven individuals and teams who are literally the best in the world
We'll see how things develop, but I'm feeling enthusiastic and proud of what we've done.
How do you like it?
Sparked by reading this post, and as a sort of follow up to my recent rant on Social Media Marketing being the extremophile of Marketing I decided to look at my own area of expertise from a different perspective.
We usually tend to regard our own activities as core for the business we work at. We like to see ourselves on the spotlight and doing tasks that create great value, boost sales, improve customer relations and spawn all sorts of benefits. We take comfort on the -usually- false believe that we are fundamental and irreplaceable.
It is very healthy to do some sort of mental exercise to prevent us from looking at our own bellies for too long: Picture yourself as a manager of a different area which is looking at what you do. How much would you care? How important would your activities be from that outsiders' perspective?
That was exactly what I did when I started writing this post.
Social Media can only help certain businesses.
Social Media Marketing in general is only appropriate for certain types of business. On very broad terms it is only good for corporations that deal with end users. There are some ideas that can be more broadly applied than others. For instance, blogs could be a great idea for a company doing b2b, but public sentiment monitoring would be useless.
A forum or blogs are unimaginable for the defense sector. Can you imagine a thread on "Should we fit nuke warheads on our new rockets?"
Social Media is part of a broader Marketing Universe.
Relying solely on Social Media to promote a brand and/or products is wrong. No caveats, no exceptions, it can't live on its own. It can (and in some case should) be an integral part of a broader overall online marketing strategy.
Social media only appeals and reaches a limited amount of users. That is the one thing the so-called social media expert seem to conveniently forget. Unless your target is to sell blogging platforms chances are a good chunk of your audience is not going to read or write blogs, spend time on Facebook, or even use iGoogle.
Of course the market is on a continuous evolution, and things are bound to change. Blog readership and social network sites have been on the rise, but I don't think SMM is mature enough to stand solely by itself.
A smart marketer would use SMM in conjunction with online advertising, a good partner program (if applicable) and traditional Marketing strategies. All of this are pieces of a puzzle, an Orchestra that should work together complementing different audience's preferences to get influenced into buying something.
Social media is just another player, one that is getting increased attention and importance, but not the Prima Donna that some consultants and analysts state.
Integration is key to achieve a successful Marketing policy.
Listening is still important
Listening to customers is becoming increasingly important. Social Media Marketing is one of the best tools available to do so. Yet there seems to be a void between SMM and traditional marketing. Most companies, consultants and agencies fail to see the creative marketing potential behind this conversations that have started to happen.
Leveraging what you learn from your faithful customers has already given results in overall sentiment and pressing issues that emerge every now and then. Yet that same knowledge could be applied towards building more successful campaigns. If your users continuously say that your product is great because of "A" and you keep on marketing feature "B", there is something broken somewhere.
This does not mean that you should use a "we listen" tagline. That is lame, people already expect you to listen and you'll end up looking like a useless gimmick if you do so.
Famous Last Words
I'm not contradicting myself, but rather putting things into perspective. Social Media is an important player in the web marketing universe in general, easily scalable (both up and down) and cost effective. But I thought that as a Social Media guy myself I should try to put some sense into the great amount of rubbish and over-excitement around SMM that I've been reading lately.
Social Media is a new player and a lot of people take advantage on the overall ignorance on the matter that takes place on a lot of organizations. As with most things when your audience is ill-educated on a particular matter it is fairly easy to deceive them and trick them with colored mirrors (or powerpoint presentations and mischievous graphs).
Sidenote: this post has been on the forge for the past week. Yesterday Mark Cahill posted an interesting entry on a similar (and, I think, complementing) tone.
For those who don't have the luck of being married to a Biotech Phd (well, almost Phd) here's the wikipedia definition on extremophiles:
An extremophile is an organism that thrives in and may even require physically or geochemically extreme conditions that are detrimental to the majority of life on Earth.
Hopefully the definition helps in the hyperbole I'll make an effort to build here.
For the past 2 years or so we've been hearing about the web 2.0 bubble. I have advocated this belief myself, stating that many companies are either overpriced or directly unprofitable; "doomed" for short. The most recent post from the "mayhem is near, repent" series I have read is one by Dennis Howlett, its title is worth of a Stephen King novel: "Are we headed for a nuclear winter?".
It is true that the economy is cooling (more evidently so in the US) and that will drive costs cut, heads rolling and venture capitals to become as cold as an iceberg. Many companies will fall, particularly when credit starts to get crunched (an unavoidable step if policy makers don't want to get us into a much nastier situation). The web 2.0 bubble will burst sooner or later.
But "Social Media" and many "services" that came to life under the two-point-oh label are here to stay. Sure enough many sites will disappear or evolve due to the harsh economic conditions, but the same way that "portals" didn't just vanish into nothingness in 1999, web 2.0 will not become just a mere memory overnight.
A recession is to Marketing what "physically or geochemically extreme conditions" are to microorganisms: not good. When the belt starts to tighten we all know that Marketing spend is one of the first to suffer.
I won't get as optimistic as Jeremiah and say social media will be "effective", but rather keep a more moderate point of view. I'll say it will "survive" I have to admit that I tend to be more conservative on expectations because I know that not every single CEO and CMO out there shares (or gets) the enthusiasm for Social Media. Jeremiah writes:
(...) Social Media, which tends to have lower costs than other forms of marketing (commodity tools) can be very cost effective for those wanting to get customers to spread and share messages. On the other hand, marketers need to be careful, because doing it wrong will result in more work, and in some situations, brand backlash.
Cost effective is good, particularly under economical uncertainty, but I think the most important features that will keep the social media marketing boat floating are adaptability, accountability and being (somewhat) measurable. (For honesty's sake I must say the latter two are sketched on Forrester's report).
Here are the thoughts on SMM's advantages:
Social Media Marketing is adaptable due to what I believe is its definition (for once the wikipedia definition of SMM didn't please me, so I'll give my own): "A direct engagement from a company to its -prospective and existing- customers through online community (social) tools".
Note: although I do believe that things such as transparency and authenticity are premises for a successful Social Media Marketing strategy, I left the terms out of the definition because I can certainly picture scenarios where strategists would leave them out of the equation.
Engagement is constant and tools are variables. Processes are variable as well. This makes SMM a very adaptable task; it can downscale our upscale depending on available budget, tools and bandwidth.
One of the most beautiful things about SMM is that it puts real people's faces to otherwise faceless companies. People relate better to other people rather than to logos or press releases. This is a double-bladed weapon, though. As Social Media Marketers our visibility goes up, but so does our accountability. If I say something or do something wrong on a public site it is my head that's out for chopping. And that is refreshing.
I've witness lack of accountability for far too long in the corporate world. We, as corporations, have grown the awful habit of shielding behind teams and collectiveness when things don't work. I have as a personal premise that if I screw up I'll stand for my mistake (and hopefully learn something out of it).
The same happens when a campaign or social media marketing initiative backfires. There is -quite usually- a personal "touch" (for lack of a better term) on this ideas that can be backtracked like breadcrumbs to the intellectual author. So bosses always have someone to shout at, and that is always cathartic for those in decision making positions.
Social Media Marketing's metrics accuracy stand someplace in between Internet and traditional advertising. It is not possible to relate sales with spend as effectively as with, say, Ad Words but it is not as nebulous as TV ads. Yet, there is a lot that can be learnt and turned into numbers, figures, pie-charts, trends and power point presentations with SMM. In the worst case scenario it can serve as a barometer for the general sentiment towards a brand.
There is one other very powerful reason why SMM will be around even Marketing budget will equal to a take-a-penny tray: People. Fortunately there is a growing number of customers who have grown numb to traditional marketing BS. There is still value on traditional Marketing, but the signal-to-noise ratio on consumer's ears is tilting towards the noise side. There's a whole new niche that won't ever get engaged by a TV ad but will become active participants and even evangelists for a brand if the messaging is good enough. Many companies would of never turn around part of their negative image if they didn't engage into SMM.
I'm quite certain there's a big chunk of the pie of customers that would be lost if SMM was ditched. And that is something no companies are willing to do.
My prediction: SMM is like roaches; it will survive the nuclear winter.
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